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Federal officials announced extra 2.6 million flu doses

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Scrambling to cover a major shortfall in flu vaccine, federal officials yesterday announced that an extra 2.6 million doses would be produced and available by January.

They said they're negotiating to get still another 1.5 million doses from a Canadian manufacturer and they're exploring other sources throughout the world. But they conceded there is no way they will be able to completely make up the shortfall of nearly 50 million doses.

"Any extra doses we can get is a good thing," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The United States, which had hoped to acquire about 100 million doses, learned earlier this month that one of two major suppliers, Chiron Corp., would be unable to ship nearly 48 million doses because of potential contamination at its plant in Britain.

The other supplier, Aventis Pasteur, made about 55 million doses.

Yesterday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson announced that Aventis Pasteur now says it will be able to produce 2.6 million more doses, for a total of 58 million doses. There are another 2 million doses of FluMist nasal spray on hand.

Thompson said that the extra doses, combined with ample supplies of antiviral medicine, put the U.S. in a strong position to protect at-risk people including seniors, children and health workers.

"We understand the public's concerns about the loss of the Chiron flu vaccine, but they should know we have a healthy supply of vaccines and medicines to cope with the flu season," Thompson said.

Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the Food and Drug Administration is "actively beating the bushes" to get even more vaccine from other sources.

In particular, Fauci said, the FDA is in "active negotiations" with Canada-based ID Biomedical to acquire 1.5 million doses. Any such deal would have to clear regulatory hurdles, because the Canadian vaccine currently is not approved for use in the U.S.

A number of Americans are not waiting for that deal to go through, and instead are heading across the border into Canada which has a surplus of doses to get vaccinated.

A clinic in Fort Erie, Canada, near Buffalo, has said it will vaccinate 100 Americans a day for about $40 each.

The demand by Americans has been such that "we could run a 24-hour clinic only for flu shots," said Dr. Antaj Singh of the Urgent Care Niagara clinic. With Post Wire Services

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